Epilogue – Life Will Go On

After many years of work writing my cancer story, and updating it to include two recurrences, I finally had it finished. And I was so excited, to finally contact a publisher for the first time, and to enter into the process required to take my book project to the next level. Then, after waiting patiently for a few months, I was ecstatic to hear from Dr. Richard Tate when he called to tell me my project was being accepted for production. That happened on November 8, 2006, just days before my follow-up blood tests and annual CT scan were scheduled. I went in for those tests on Friday, November 24, 2006, and began the waiting game yet again. Finally, the day came and it was time to see Dr. Kashyap. It was December 5, 2006, and it was time for the report.

Here, let me tell you the story about that day:

Today started out like so many recent days in my life. I woke up early, still tired but unable to go back to sleep. Then I carefully drove my car to the office where I opened the door, stepped out onto a patch of ice that was a result of the melting snow the day before and it refreezing overnight. As I drove between my home and the office, the roads had condensation on them this morning, and I tried to be very cautious while driving. Then after parking my car in the parking garage, and opening the driver side door, in just a twinkling of an eye my left foot hit the ground on black ice, and literally flew out from underneath the weight of my body. Bang! I hit the ground hard, and I went all the way down, landing on my left side. It was hard for me to shake off that fall, because I had just moved from another parking location to avoid the long walk between that parking garage and our office building. I had to do this primarily because of my energy levels, but I had also hoped to prevent falling in the ice or snow during the winter months. All I could think about was how ironic it was that I had fallen in the place that was supposed to be a safe place for me. And the fact that this happened during my very first week in the new parking garage made it even tougher to accept.

Perhaps this was my first clue about how the day would go for me. I have been anxiously waiting for this afternoon to arrive because it was finally time to get my oncology test results back. This was a big one, blood tests had been drawn, and CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvic area had been run just a few days earlier. The waiting game had begun and the clock was ticking. What was Doc going to tell me this time? Oh, how I dreamed of the minute he would walk into that examination room, check me over thoroughly, and read the test results to me and say you’re good for another three months on the blood work, and let’s plan another CT scan in about a year. But that wasn’t the way my afternoon ended!

For some reason things were running more closely to the schedule today at my oncologist’s office. I arrived on time and got right in to see him. Perhaps it’s because of the holidays and things are slow. I don’t really know. But the thing I remember most is the new nurse checking me over and talking to me about my chart. My blood pressure was a little high this time. It’s been that way the last couple of times I have seen my doctors. I keep remembering how difficult the medications were and I don’t want to take them again if I don’t absolutely have to. So far I have been able to escape my doctor insisting on me starting another pill. I hate to take medication for anything.

When Doc finished checking me over this afternoon he told me the blood tests were OK as he turned to wash his hands in the sink there in the examination room, but then he also hesitantly mentioned that the CT scan told a very different story. I felt panic rise up inside me! Oh no, I thought, as I listened carefully to what Doc had to say. It seems my abdomen has an area again where a tumor has grown to approximately five or six times the size it can safely be. Doc said it looks like the lymphoma is active inside my body again. Words I never wanted to hear again in my lifetime!

I remember asking Dr. Kashyap if it was because I had been pushing myself so hard all the time, always pushing the envelope trying to do more and trying to accomplish so many things, that had caused another recurrence. He looked me in the eye and said something like you know we don’t know for sure what causes your cancer. I guess I just needed to hear that fact again. I always worry that by pushing myself so hard all of the time, going on days when I just don’t feel like I have any energy to be going at all, if I’m not doing more damage to myself than good. My mind was at ease after hearing Doc give me that gentle reminder.

After Doc talked with me about the treatment options for a bit, I walked away assured that we were going to try Rituxan again. Starting with the customary four doses then going from there. I totally trust Doc and told him I was OK with whatever he wanted to do. When I left his office today I had instructions to call on Friday to find out the exact plans. But he reassured me that we can wait until after the holidays to start treatments again in 2007, and that it will be alright.

As I walked away from the doctor’s office to my car, my mind started racing as it does quite often these days. I remembered being tired, and wondering if I was dealing with fatigue again. I remembered waking up in the night a couple of times in the past several weeks with the feeling of night sweats like I had experienced the first time I was diagnosed back in 1995. The thing that caught my attention the most was how I seemed to feel faint and weak inside. Is it just emotion? Is it the fact that I am scared to death to think about what will happen next? Will the Rituxan work again?

I remembered the last time I dealt with this fear of the unknown. I had been so nervous that Debbie had called the doctor’s office and asked them to have Doc call me when he got the reports. That time, we kind of had some advance warning that things had changed, and we were in fact watching and waiting. But today it was all supposed to be routine, but something deep down inside of me seemed to know differently. Something didn’t seem right! I didn’t know for sure but I knew something was going on. Right now I am sitting here writing this within the first hour since Doc gave me that news. I am still in shock! I am still trying to understand what God has in his plan for my life. While sitting in Doc’s examination room, after we talked and he went out to get some additional information for me, I did pray. I asked God to help me understand and learn the lesson he had for me to learn. Much like recurrence two in October, 2004. I can’t believe I had to say that word again in this context. OK, I must face it sooner or later: I have been told my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is out of remission so this makes it recurrence number three.

The real tough part is still ahead of me. I have to tell my beautiful bride the news. She is at the health club doing her daily exercise routine and will call me in a few minutes. So what do you think? Do I try to bluff my way by this unfortunate news and let her get home before telling her the facts? I don’t think I can do that—she knows me all too well.

There is another anomaly in my mind. I just signed the contract to publish my book, the story about my life as a long-term cancer survivor. What should I do? Now I have to decide how to handle this recurrence in my story. How am I going to do that? In fact, I just talked to my doctor about writing the foreword to my book and he agreed. How can I be so excited about a project and at the same time be so unsure of how the story ends? After all, I have done everything the doctor has told me to do for eleven years now. What is going on? Poking those raw emotions back down inside of me, I do know the answer. It’s God’s plan at work in my life and I have to hold onto hope. No matter how this recurrence turns out, I am going to be alright.

Well it’s just about time for my beautiful bride to arrive home so I best go meet her in the garage. I can’t wait to grab her into my arms and hold her and kiss her and tell her I love her. She is the most precious person I have ever known.

The Telephone Call and Our Evening

As you might expect I wasn’t able to wait and tell Debbie the news tonight. Just as I walked into the garage she called. I tried to keep her talking, but the inevitable question came from her lips, “What did Doc have to say?” I told her she didn’t really want to know, then reminded her I had been telling her for a couple of weeks that some things were bothering me. I was glad I was there in the garage waiting for her because for some reason her garage door opener goofed up and the door started to close on her truck as she backed into the garage. I was able to stop it by grabbing onto it and pushing against it. Then after she parked and got out of the truck, I got the hug and kiss I was so desperately waiting on.

We went out to one of our favorite spots for dinner tonight. While we rode together hand in hand I asked: “What do you think, are you tough enough to get us through this deal again?”

She replied, “Do we have any choice!” The battle is on. We are in this thing together. I know I couldn’t do it alone so I am glad she plans to stand beside me dragging me to the finish line again. With God, and my wonderful wife alongside of me, I know I can make it again.

Accepting the News

The next few weeks were real tough on both Debbie and me. We both had to deal with the emotional part of the news I had received at my doctor’s office. The cancer was supposed to stay in remission for three or four years—at least that is what we were all hoping for. It didn’t turn out that way at all, and now we face the unknowns of treatments and retesting to find out if they are going to work again. Knowing full well that the Rituxan should do its job again; and if need be there are newer, more advanced treatment options available to me.

In reality, the news I received was not all bad. However, the critical test Doc uses to make certain the lymphoma is still in remission, once again, proved to be invaluable. Everything was normal except that one test. You may remember the CT scan is the test that takes pictures inside my body to look for tumor growth. The results once again showed the lymphoma is out of remission and I am facing my third recurrence. And the part I want to tell you is that even with all of my years of experience dealing with this cancer, I had to deal with those same emotions yet again. Feeling like I had lost the battle for life. And feeling like the work I had put into taking care of myself for the past eleven years was all done for nothing. But I also made a decision that evening to hold onto hope like I have done in the past. I knew I needed to work through those feelings in my mind, taking them to God one at a time for the answers I needed. It took time, but I was finally able to regain my focus just like I have told you about throughout my story. And I remembered to take control of my mind and to get it focused on doing my part in this battle for life. Once again, I have had to remind myself about the word hope, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I do have an incurable cancer. You need to know that Debbie did that too; and she worked through this again for herself just like I did for myself. Then we synergized and came together with my medical team to start this new battle as one gigantic force against Mr. “C”.

Treatments for Recurrence Three Begin

It is December 20, 2006, and in just about an hour I will be in the doctor’s office starting a new treatment regimen under the care of Dr. Kashyap. The plan is to use Rituxan again, and then reevaluate where I am using the guidelines of that protocol. I am excited that Doc was able to catch the lymphoma early again, with no apparent complications. Right now the possibilities for remission look very good. I would like to ask you to remember me, and the other people in this world who continue to fight cancer, in your prayers. Please ask God to help the scientists find the cure they are supposed to be so incredibly close to. And pray that God will give each and every one of us what we need to make it through our day as we live with this deadly disease.

Right now I am scheduled for four treatments one week apart. Then we will get the CT scan to make sure it has worked again. Time will tell how this chapter of my story ends. I am told the latest news in the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma arena is the fact that treatment regimens have improved to promise people like me ongoing success in our fight against this disease. They say we can now expect to live life just like people with other chronic illnesses do. Our cancer, and the new treatment regimens we now have to treat it with, seems to be much like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and other diseases that need ongoing medical care. But just like the people who are treated for them, we can continue to live our lives out with a good quality of life.

I can tell you that becoming a cancer patient in an active treatment role again made me carefully consider everything I have written in this book. And I can honestly tell you that it helped me refocus on what I needed to do. It helped me remember what I have been through in the past, how I dealt with all those treatments, and how I focused on my faith to get me through all of those years living my life as a cancer patient, and being a long-term cancer survivor. My plan is to do what my doctor and nurses tell me to do, and to take the medicine again. And I will certainly hold onto hope. But I also feel compelled to define my hope here again, before I finish this final chapter in my story, in a little more detail that I had done previously.

In order to start the new treatment regimen I had to find a renewed strength. By now I hope you have noticed that I believe everything in my life is under the control of almighty God. And, that I turn to the Bible for knowledge and wisdom to help me live a life that is pleasing to him.

Today, I turned to the book of Job to give myself a primer about who God is. Let me share some of the verses I read there:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Job 38:1-13 (NIV)

There is much more to that description of God if you continue to read the rest of the book of Job, and you may want to take a look for yourself. But these few verses really solidified who God is for me during this time in my life.

I also revisited the promise God gave me many years ago when this cancer story began. Back then, I honestly believe God told me that my life would be like Job’s because of my faith in him. And I hold onto the following two verses for that promise:

First, “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first” (Job 42:12 NIV).

And second, “After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years” (Job 42:16-17 NIV).

Based upon these two verses you can see that I believe that God has a purpose for me on earth, at least for a little longer.

Finally Finished Again

This week I finally finished the Rituxan treatment regimen. It started on December 20, 2006, and I had the additional treatments on December 27, 2006, January 3, 2007, and the final treatment was on January 10, 2007. It was a fast paced period of four weeks that played out along with the busy holiday season. I was glad I had planned to take some of my vacation time between Christmas and New Year’s again this year. That really helped me get the extra rest I needed. Things went very well and now I am simply waiting on my next blood test and doctor’s visit, and the next very important CT scan to make sure everything worked as anticipated. It was a relief to get the treatments behind me again, and I am anxiously awaiting the results of my next blood tests and CT scan. I am excited to see 2007 and look forward to living a very full and exciting life celebrating God’s love for me this year.

But when my time on earth is up, and I have served out the purpose God actually placed me here to accomplish for my generation, I am looking forward to finally seeing Jesus in person, and getting to talk with him face to face. The HOPE I have told you that I hold onto in my life is very exciting. I love to read about it so I decided I would share it with you here as well:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Revelation 21:1-7 (NIV)

I know I will be in heaven with my Savior one day because God said:

“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27 NIV).

Remember me telling you that I believed in Jesus at the age of eight. That’s how I made sure my name got written in the Lamb’s book of life. Based on that decision I also believe that one day I will be part of this next event.

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12-13).

My whole cancer story was written down to show you the love of God in my life, and to invite you to come to Jesus too, based upon this promise:

“‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’ The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:16-17 NIV).

Now I believe that one day, probably not that far from today, everything as you and I know it will come to an end. And by a simple act of faith in Jesus Christ, those of us who believe in him will spend eternity with him. That, my friend, is why I say I have HOPE, and why I am Holding Onto Promises Everlasting.

I pray that I will meet you in heaven one day and that when I do, you will be able to tell me that my story made a difference in your life. I hope you, too, will choose to take the free gift of eternal life that Jesus has offered you. Please come — Because I truly believe that life will go on…

Website Picks Up The Story

The closing of my book (Once Was Not Enough: A story of hope in the heartland) I left my readers with the same questions I had in my mind. What was going to happen next? What was the outcome going to be?

In my mind I also had another question to contemplate: Will I be able to tell you, “The Rest of My Story?”

I’m glad that I was blessed to be able to tell you the rest of my story and this website (Hope In The Heartland: The Rest of My Story) was created to do that.